User-generated content: an analysis

With the rapid increase of technological convergence, user-generated content and social networking has become an integral part of the outworking of mass media corporations. As a renowned traditional media organisation, the ABC is an exemplification of this step forward, as in recent years the corporation has begun to integrate user-generated content and introduce social media across a variety of platforms. This has created many challenges and opportunities. First, this essay will define user generated content and why it is important to the ABC, then analyse the ABC policies on user generated content, the forms of social media that the ABC uses, and how this media is incorporated into the ABC programs and news with regards to how the opportunities supersede the challenges.

As outlined by the Australian Copyright Council (2012), user generated content is a broad term that encompasses comments on social networking sites, images and videos uploaded to sharing sites, blog sites that encourage responses, articles on public posting sites (such as Wikipedia), activities on virtual reality sites, material posted to entrepreneurial sites that invite customers to post reviews, and information that is explicitly sent in to news organisations from the public. Many organisations, including the ABC, incorporate user-generated content into their operations. Although there are negative aspects to this move, it has been predominantly seen as an opportunity for growth, for example by the Senior Associate at PEJ, with regards to information that is sent in to news organisations,

If it’s used properly, I think it’s a wonderful thing to have. Particularly if you’re talking about the camera. If there is something big that happens and you get like fifty different emails from people sending you video or photos. The thing that comes to mind is the bombing in Spain. (…) You have got to be careful obviously about the content, as you don’t want it to be too disturbing. But what are the odds that you’re going to have somebody there when something like that is happening. It can’t be a replacement of other coverage. But in terms of adding something to the coverage you have: Yes! It can add a lot! It can really add a lot! (Heinrich 2011, 126)

For mass media organisations, like the Senior Associate at PEJ is describing, user generated content can have very positive repercussions, including the ability for a citizen to send information to a news organisation that a journalist may not be able to attain. The very nature of the ABC as a public broadcaster and not a commercial news organisation makes it more appropriate for assimilating user-generated content. This is because the main functions of a public service broadcaster in Australia, as outlined by the Commonwealth Consolidated Acts in section 6 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983, is “to provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services… that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain and reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community” (Commonwealth Consolidated Acts 1983). Whereas a commercial news provider is a privately owned corporate media organisation that is defined by the Commonwealth Consolidated Acts in section 14 of the Broadcasting Service Act 1992 as a service “that provide programs that, when considered in the context of the service being provided, appear to be intended to appeal to the general public…” (Commonwealth Consolidated Acts 1992). As the description of a commercial service provider does not require the organisation to express public opinion like the ABC does, it is likely to not require the use of user-generated content. In comparison, user-generated content is significant to the ABC as the organisation is committed to expressing the public opinion. Thus by the very nature of the organisation, it will benefit greater from the utilisation of user-generated content and social media than a commercial provider. The utilisation of user-generated content and social media by the ABC will be further discussed in the following three points which will analyse the ABC policies on user generated content, the forms of social media that the ABC uses, and how this media is incorporated into the ABC programs and news with regards to how each of these aspects present challenges and opportunities for the organisation.

The ABC has begun to introduce user generated content and social media across a variety of platforms, which has precipitated challenges and opportunities. In June 2011, the ABC issued a guidance notice on ‘moderating user generated content’ for editorial policies. These policies outline the use and handling of user generated content within the organisation and shed light on some of the various challenges and opportunities that face the ABC with regards to user generated content and social media. In a letter to staff, regarding the 2009 editorial policy, Mark Scott, the ABC Managing Director said that the policy was “necessary to enable the ABC to continue to develop as a ‘town square’ where debate flourishes and different voices can be heard, and where the creative talents of users  — both young and older  — can be expressed” (Simons, 2009). As outlined in the 2011 guidance notice, individuals and organisations have the opportunity to engage with the ABC, its audiences and each other in a variety of formats. This includes the ability for artists and musicians to submit their work for broadcast, audience members to question ABC presenters and their guests by phone or online, and general members of the public to submit news ideas or links to photos or information (Australian Broadcasting Company 2011). The benefit of this policy to the organisation is that the public can send in information or leads to news stories that the ABC journalists may not be able to obtain, as well as information that gives a fresh perspective on a current story. By accepting user-generated content and expressing the opinions of the public, the ABC is essentially upholding the Fourth Estate, which aims to “defend the rights of citizens” (Sternberg 2012, 21). Furthermore, it is also outlined in their notice that, “Individuals and organisations who generate and submit content are not required to be impartial” (ABC 2011).  Firstly, the ability for users to hold a bias, allows for debate which is positive for the growth of the ABC as a ‘town square’, however the accuracy and bias of information from submissions can be problematic when journalists wish to carry stories, as the ABC is traditionally renowned for accuracy and impartiality. Although bias is a challenge, it can be overcome by cross-checking. Thus with regards to the policy’s discussed, the incorporation of user-generated content can be deemed a positive step forward for the ABC. This will be further exemplified in the following point, which will outline various social networking platforms that the ABC uses to their advantage.

The ABC has revolutionised as a mass media organisation with its efforts to utilise user-generated content and integrate social networking into their operations. In the journalistic sphere, the use of social media has allowed journalists the power to post to multiple forums at once, giving them the ability to reach wider audiences. The ABC incorporates social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and discussion forums, with each generating opportunities and challenges for the traditional organisation. Twitter enables journalists to post on-the-go stories and ‘retweet’ as well as include ‘hashtags’ that can be easily sourced by the general public. Twitter has proven a particularly effective social medium for reaching and engaging with the younger ‘tech’ generation as it is more readily accessible and they are more likely source news online than purchase a physical newspaper. A report by Pew Research Centre, entitled, Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources, found that the younger generation are the age group with the lowest newspaper readership, with 21percent of people 18-29 using the newspaper as their primary source of news compared with 37percent of people 50-64 and 55percent of those 65 and over (Pew Research Centre 2008). In another report by Pew, entitled, Ideological News Sources: Who Watches and Why, the Internet was named the primary news source by 64percent of people 18-29 (Pew Research Centre 2010). This statistic also encompasses the use of Facebook, which allows journalists to post statuses, links and create interest groups. It also allows for the general public to post comments and formulate discussion. The challenges that can arise when an organisation is on Facebook may include the fact that it is difficult to moderate the comments posted by the public, as people can freely post on the ABC posts without the comment going through moderation first. Thirdly, discussion forums on the ABC website are an effective approach to encourage user interaction. The benefit of discussion forums is that they allow for healthy debate and help to further current news stories. Although there are risks associated with the utilisation of social media in a large-scale organisation like the ABC, it is clear that the opportunities far outweigh the challenges. These benefits will be further examined in the following point, which will explore the ABCs direct incorporation of social media and user-generated content into its programs.

The adoption of social media and user-generated content has changed the face of traditional journalism, presenting both considerable challenges and opportunities. The ABC has increased technological convergence with the integration of social media and user-generated content directly into many of its programs. This is exemplified in the ABCs community involvement initiative, the ABCs use of Pool, the television program Q&A and the website Unleashed. The ABC has operated a website for every community for almost a decade, however in March 2008, this initiative was reinvented under the ABC Local brand, as outlined in the ABC and SBS: Towards a digital future report (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2008), with the aim to “increase its interactivity and capacity for user contributions, improving its ability to foster conversations on topics ranging from recipes and regional events to gardening tips and local elections”. The ABC has used the National Interest Initiatives funding to place Radio Online Producers in its regional offices with the purpose of filing local stories for radio and online platforms, allowing for the ability to tell local and regional stories. This is an opportunity for both the ABC and the public, as the organisation gains greater public interest and the local communities have their stories told. A second way that the ABC supports user engagement online is by its involvement in the user-generated content initiative, Pool, which was developed by ABC Radio National, University of Technology Sydney, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and The University of Wollongong (ABC 2008). As outlined by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Pool is a media-sharing website that allows digital content creators to upload and publish their creative work as well as collaborate with other users. Public audiences then have the opportunity to view the works in progress, comment and review them and even contribute (2010). Pool holds many opportunities for not only users, as they can submit their work and become recognised, but also for the ABC as a news corporation, as these submissions can be a source for stories. The third example is ABCs program Q&A, which, as outlined by the Australian Broadcasting Company, is a show where questions formulated by the general public are asked to a panel of public figures (2012a). Q&A has revolutionised the face of traditional media by incorporating twitter in the form of broadcasting select tweets on television, having an active online discussion board that is moderated by the ABC, and accepting questions in multiple digital formats, making Q&A the first example of user-uploaded video in Australia for this type of program (ABC 2008). The live commentary has added an extra interactive dimension to Q&A as it provides “a fun new way to participate in a live political discussion,” as outlined by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2012b). The interactive nature of twitter has presented the ABC with the opportunity to engage younger viewer’s as they are the greatest users of social media. The fourth notable initiative for user-generated content is the ABC site called Unleashed, which publishes user-contributed essays on an array of topics with each essay open to debate via a comment section. Unleashed is an excellent forum for writers to become recognised and has proven to be a success, publishing over 250 writers and generating over 80 000 comments since launching in October 2007 (ABC 2008). This is positive for the ABC, as not only is it a place where diverse discussion can flourish, but it is also a great platform to draw on for news stories. As a whole, the integration of social media into ABC websites and programs provides a passageway to reach the younger generation as well as gain ideas for news stories.

Through the analysis of the ABC as a public broadcaster, various ABC policies on user generated content, the forms of social media used by the ABC, and the incorporation of social media and user-generated content into the ABC programs and websites, it has been established that the opportunities far outride the challenges. Firstly, by examining the very nature of the ABC as a public broadcaster, it was found to be more appropriate than commercial broadcasters, for the utilisation of user-generated content. Secondly, by analysing some of the policies on user-generated content, it was discovered that although bringing about the potential for bias, user-generated content is as a whole, positive for the ABC as it provides a platform for fresh perspectives and concepts for news stories. Thirdly, by analysing the forms of social media utilised by the ABC, including Twitter, Facebook and discussion forums, it was proven a far greater opportunity than a challenge as it supplied the ABC with the ability to interact with the younger generation, receive information quickly and enable journalists to post and link stories on the run. Finally, by analysing the integration of social media and user-generated content directly into programs and websites such as the community involvement initiatives, Pool, Q&A and Unleashed, it has been determined that this has proven positive in enabling the ABC to source news ideas and engage a wider audience. Although user-generated content and social media comes with risks, it has an overall positive effect on a traditional news organisation such as the ABC, as it assists in achieving the corporation’s goal of expressing public opinion. Attention to trends in social media platforms and the use of user-generated content will continue to be critical to public broadcasters to ensure that they are effectively relating to their consumer in this ever-changing technological world.


ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 2008. ABC and SBS: Towards a digital future. Accessed May 21, 2012.


ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 2010. “Pool.” Accessed May 21, 2012.


ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 2011. “Editorial Policies: Principles and Standards.” Accessed 23 May, 2012.


ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) 2012a. “About the show.” Accessed May 28, 2012.


ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 2012b. “Q&As Moderated Twitter Feed.” Accessed May 20, 2012.


Australian Copyright Council. 2012. “Websites: User-generated Content & Web 2.0.” Accessed May 20, 2012.


Commonwealth Consolidated Acts. 1983. “Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 – Sect6.” Accessed May 20, 2012.


Commonwealth Consolidated Acts. 1992. “Broadcasting Services Act 1992 – sect 1.” Accessed May 20, 2012.


Heinrich, Ansgard. 2011. Network Journalism: Journalistic Practice in Interactive Spheres. New York: Routledge. Accessed May 21, 2012.


Pew Research Centre. 2008. Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources. Accessed May 28, 2012.


Pew Research Centre. 2010. Ideological News Sources: Who Watches and Why. Accessed May 28, 2012.


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